Global protests against Vedanta (January 11): A Report

People across the globe have registered their protests against Vedanta once again. On January 11, parallel demonstrations took place in Orissa, London and New York where activists in hundreds raised slogans and upheld placards to denounce the corporate annexations of  indigenous peoples’ lands.

From Niyamgiri hills, more than 500 people turned up at a rally which covered about two kilometers in the Bhawanipatna town. Resistance movements in Lanjigarh have also inspired tribal representatives of Karlapat region whose mountains are now being targeted by the mining companies. In this rally, several people who were cheated of their lands narrated the atrocities and tortures they faced from Vedanta highhandedness in Lanjigarh. They also gave an account of how the company goons and the local police routinely harass the women in the afflicted areas.


In solidarity with the indigenous peoples of Orissa, a loud group of protesters from Foil Vedanta and other grassroots groups mobbed the company’s Mayfair headquarters in London the same day. Holding a banner that read “FCA: de-list Vedanta”, the demonstrators called for the Financial Conduct Authority to remove Vedanta from the London Stock Exchange for poor corporate governance and human rights crimes.


Likewise, in New York City, protesters gathered outside the United Nations headquarters to highlight the company’s human rights crimes, displaying placards that read: “Our Mountain! Our Rights! Vedanta: Give Up!” and “Dongria Kond’s Niyamgiri: Hands Off!”

New York

Simultaneously, the Supreme Court of India has deferred its final verdict on Vedanta’s planned mega-mine until 21st January. If permission to mine is denied Vedanta is likely to close its Lanjigarh refinery due to lack of bauxite costing them billions. On Sunday the Minister for Rural Development Jairam Ramesh plans to visit the threatened mountain to visit the Dongria Kond.

Various grassroots groups including Phulbari Solidarity Group, Japan Against Nuclear, Tamil Solidarity and London Mining Network, along with Foil Vedanta gathered at Vedanta’s London headquarters to add their voice to recent pressure for Vedanta to be de-listed from the London Stock Exchange for its poor corporate governance, illegal operations and major human rights violations. They shouted ‘Vedanta out of London’ and blew horns and whistles. Several parliamentarians and the former CBI Director Richard LambertLondon have highlighted how Vedanta’s listing is used for legal immunity to hide their corporate crimes.

At the Supreme Court in Delhi today lawyers for Vedanta dwelled on the ongoing demonstrations in London, asking why people are protesting there, and claiming that India is suffering because of this. Judges noted that this is not relevant to the case and pointed out that people have a right to protest. Foil Vedanta’s spokesperson reacted:

“Vedanta is a London listed company and profits from this affiliation. It is typical of Vedanta to assume they are above the law and above public accountability. We will continue to draw attention to their corporate crimes here in London”.

Activists at the rally in Bhawanipatna chanted “Vedanta go back: water, land and forest ours. We are Supreme people of the supreme court” while dalit leader Surendra Nag spoke about the loss of land and livelihood for local people, some of whom have ended up as beggars. One man spoke of how his whole family had been tortured by company goons and they had lost 6 acres of land to the company without compensation.

The project has been racked with controversy from the start, as a spate of recent coverage points out: The Lanjigarh refinery built to process the bauxite from the hills was illegally constructed, the court case presided over by a judge with shares in the company, and the refinery should never have been given permission without including the associated mega mine in impact assessments. The Delhi High Court is also currently investigating the large donations from Vedanta to India’s two main political parties which could be deemed illegal as Vedanta is a foreign (British) company.

A cover story in major Indian glossy Open Magazine in December details evidence of corruption and collusion between Vedanta and the Orissa state government, local officials, judges and the police to force the project through. Meanwhile Vedanta’s chairman and 56.7% owner Anil Agarwal has launched a rare PR crusade claiming that Vedanta ‘have not cut one tree’ and respects and preserves the rights of the protesting indigenous tribe living on the threatened mountain. He sets out his extractive philosophy for India – suggesting that exploration should be drastically increased and regulation decreased to provide for the domestic market for metals and oil.

If Vedanta loses the case to allow state owned company Orissa Mining Corporation to mine the mountain on their behalf they may have to close the dependent Lanjigarh refinery costing them billions. Under enormous pressure from Vedanta the Orissa government has suggested alternative bauxite supplies from a deposit located in a major wildlife sanctuary and tribal area at Karlapat arousing anger and opposition from grassroots groups.

The court’s decision rests on whether the Green Bench of India’s Supreme Court rules the rights of forest dwellers to be ‘inalienable or compensatory’. In view of this, India’s Tribal Affairs Minister V Kishore Chandra Deo has asked the Environment Minister to ensure the rights of forest dwellers is protected in the spirit of the Forest Dwellers Act.

Speaking about the verdict, Dongria Kond activist Lado Sikaka states: “We will continue our fight even if Vedanta gets permission. Are these Judges above the Law? In effect, they act as if they are. Niyamgiri belongs to us. We are fighting because We are part of it. Our women are harassed and we are called by the police and threatened not to go to rallies. Last month they have been working like Vedanta’s servants.”

Foil Vedanta’s Samarendra Das says:

“Vedanta is not the only mining company that should be de-listed for their corporate crimes. Infamous London listed offenders Lonmin in South Africa, Monterrico in Peru, GCM in Phulbari and Bumi in Indonesia should also be investigated for extensive human rights atrocities.”

Why is Hurricane Sandy a political issue?

Saswat Pattanayak

President Obama and his administration have been exchanging high-fives and posing for stock images to bring home the point that Sandy’s aftermath is being dealt with successfully. Reassuring this to the rest of the world, the president then visits his campaign rallies. And after his inspiring speeches are registered the liberal media spins portray how neighbors should be helping each other, how communities should come together and how individual charities make all the difference in resolving natural disaster crisis. They paint the aftermath a victory for a president who hugs the visibly grateful citizens with a confident smile facing the camera. We are Americans, and we are always victorious, no matter what challenges we face, the stenographers parrot the administration lines in corporate newsrooms day after day while raking in advertisement money for their journalistic services. Things are under control and even the New York Marathon preparations are. And if the Marathon race doesn’t start from Staten Island, no sweating required. The next fanfare championship is getting held nationwide, come Tuesday. Don’t forget to join the celebrations. Don’t forget to vote the millionaire orators back to power.

Except that, there is a problem here. Maybe too many of them to find a place in this essay. Partly because most tragedies related to Sandy are not being covered by the media whose major source of revenue is from electoral campaign teams at this point and they cannot afford to upset their bosses. And the executive branch, let alone conveying to us effectively the tragedies, is choosing to depict it as an electoral victory of showmanship for a clueless leader.

As a bystander to this ongoing crisis, waiting for the food and the milk to be stocked back in the local grocery stores here in Queens, as a jeopardized New Yorker waiting for the public transportation system to resume full service, let me attempt at painting just a slightly different picture.

The truth is there has been no aftermath to Hurricane Sandy. The storm is still very much alive and kicking the livelihoods of millions of people in this country. Being a survivor and chronicler of the killer cyclone in coastal belts of Orissa (India) exactly 13 years ago, I am acutely aware of two simple premises: devastations of a storm are not felt when its at the peak, and that the natural disasters that hit the headlines are invariably human-made trail of tragedies. They do not bring along surprise elements with them. Precisely because of such predictability of natural disasters, there are functional Met offices and salaried task force professionals who are required to address the inevitabilities all year round.

Hurricane Sandy therefore was not supposed to be a fluke nor was it supposed to render millions of people homeless and hundreds dead. Weeks of predictions and media engagements with weather maps and NASA images and boasting of American priorities were the signs of how devastating the approaching times were going to be. But what they also were indicative of was that the governmental administration and the respective agencies directly responsible for addressing the consequences were going to be better prepared, considering Sandy had claimed 61 lives in Haiti on its course. What it meant was that the United States government which is duly elected to hold offices of power to administer on behalf of its citizens was meant to be constantly prepared to face and address challenges. What it meant was that the government had access and willingness to access, all the areas affected by a natural disaster of such enormous potential. What it meant was that the politicians and those that they appoint as bureaucrats were supposed to be sensitive to the needs of the people who were going to be impacted by the storm. That, the required assistance was not just going to be promised via press meets and television channels that made no sense to the affected masses rendered hapless without electricity, but that the access to basic needs of the affected were made available to the people as they were required.

What the Obama administration has failed to act upon is everything that was desirable and possible. Five days after Sandy hit the coast, if the administration had no visual footage of how an entire borough of New York City looked like, let alone displaying a willingness to access the territory, that is a failure of the political will of an administration which has been mandated by the people to practice good, ethical and humane governance. When the media channels finally made their way to interview helpless citizens in Staten Island several days after Sandy and they found the women saying they are literally dying out of access to food and basic utilities and the President of the country is cheerfully applauding the works of his campaign team in far away political trails, that is a failure on part of the political will of an administration that was put to place to prioritize agendas based on needs of people, not greeds for reelections.

If several townships and villages still are submerged in sewage water in New Jersey, stinking to the point of turning off the anchors inside newsrooms in Atlanta, and yet the President and the governors pat each others’ backs on accomplishments and pose with wider grins to declare Obama’s bipartisanship abilities as an incumbent, it is a political tragedy of massive proportions that shamelessly cashes on distressed emotions for gleeful votes.

If the federal government can send drones to monitor Pakistani air space and fails to send helicopters to Staten Island to carry food, medicines and drinking water, and if the commercial airlines at JFK and LaGuardia are able to fly across the border while the administration cannot send essential relief items to its own citizens stuck in darkness in Rockaway, Queens, then it is crude reflection of a failed politics at Washington DC and it is time for the president to stop patting backs of his officials.

Even as the FEMA continues to be showered with praises by the president and the liberal media there are millions of people without essential amenities, access and hopes. There is no telling when the electricity will be restored, when the roads will be cleared, when the sewage water will be pumped out, when the proliferating infections will be addressed, when drinking water will be made available to millions of Americans, if at all the insurance companies will be kept aside and the government will offer assistance to people to rebuild their homes and businesses, there is no telling when medicines will reach the needy, when the toddlers will have access to milk, when the people can get food at local stores or gas at the local pumps. When long queues of vehicles parade New York City streets to wait for hours until they get access to a rare petrol pump, there is no telling when the rest of the country devastated by Sandy will be on the roads to recovery once again. When new-born infants are hand-pumped by luxury hospitals of Manhattan on their ways to evacuation, there is no telling when rest of the healthcare units will attend to the suffering patients existing in abysmal darkness in the cold winter nights.

Even a country languishing in the Third World offers its needy people with minimum compensations from the government to address emergency situations, but in the United States, the epicenter of inhuman capitalism, there is no telling when if at all, the sufferers will find any funding that are not bound by loan shark terms, just to re-envision their lives after this unfortunate and entirely mismanaged tragedy of highest proportion. There is no telling when the government if at all, will take any steps towards distributing blankets at the very least, so the millions of people shivering in devastated regions can cover themselves up and be able to at least sleep during lingering dark nights.

Hurricane Sandy is all about politics. It is more about politics than Hurricane Katrina was. This is the week of reelection for the Democratic Czar and his liberal cronies who have constantly manipulated the media headlines to suppress the truths about their wrongdoings, be it their offerings of tax breaks to the rich and the corporate bailouts for the very financial institutions that crumbled the economy, or their warmongering foreign policies that have taken thousands of innocent lives worldwide, or their incompetent domestic policies that perpetuate the jobless scene for the twenty-three million Americans in home, their refusal to admit absolute inefficiency in passing favorable laws during the first two years when they were in majority while waiting for the second half of the term to blame oppositional politics for their own failures, or their suppressing the truths about gun-control and their aiding of drug mafia in the “Fast and Furious” investigations whose truths were so dangerous for the regime that the Nobel laureate Obama had to invoke executive privilege to justify suppression of facts, not to mention their continuous torturing of the truth seekers such as Bradley Manning and those that support transparency. The Democrat Czars outrightly lied about Libya and the killing of the diplomat by citing a Youtube video as the cause behind the violence without admitting that the real causes of the massively orchestrated 9-11 protests worldwide were a result of Obama regime’s failed foreign policies of aggression that have perpetuated warfare abroad with hatred and terror funding. The American government has lied to its people about Muhammad Gaddafi and conveniently depicted him as an Islamic terrorist to gain a manufactured consent for his atrocious murder while the Obama regime was constantly funding the reactionary fanatic groups in Libya to oust the secular regime with an aim to create geopolitical imbalance in the region that would proliferate the needs for continued wars. Guantanamo Bay is still wide open and Iran is the next battleground for this regime that must win this electoral bidding once again to continue its onslaughts world over. The US administrations have historically thrived with lies and deception, most of which targeted towards their own citizens. Be it the legacies of anti-Soviet hysteria which a war hawk Kennedy made money and power off, or the epochs of Korean and Vietnam War, the US presidents have constantly lied to the American people with help from their media establishments. But what has remained a constant are the popular oppositions to the White House be it in forms of antiwar movements or anticapitalism demonstrations on the streets. What sets Barack Obama aside is the brilliant manner in which he has continued the legacies of suppressions with an ease of a successful liberal. He has perfected the skill of sabotaging peoples’ organized efforts against systemic failures and furthered it to the point where the people are silenced – with their own will. And as a result the very antiwar movements that brought Obama to power today languish in anonymity while the war-president proudly adds names to the unprecedented kill-lists and indefinite detention rolls that would make even the infamous “Patriot Act” (timely upgraded each year by Democrats) look like a highschool skit.

Occupy Wall Street movement could have perhaps sustained and even gained grounds under another administration, but the Democrats quickly seized the moment to hijack most of the dissent by depicting the White House power itself as the victim of American capitalism. The word hypocrisy lost its original meaning under Obama administration as the biggest bailouts and governmental supports to the greedy corporates of the world were successfully projected as the most desirable necessities. Deliberately manipulative statements of Hillary Clinton regarding Libyan crisis was brushed aside as the result of uninformed intelligence officers and when the emails surfaced to the contrary, both the Vice President and the President lied to the American public with such enormity that the citizens have now started dismissing Libya as “just a four deaths” casualty.

And with Sandy appearing like “just a few hundreds mess” despite devastating millions, the administration has started suppressing facts related to misgovernance and bureaucratic red-tapism. When five nursing homes in Rockway beach were directed by government officials to not evacuate even as they clearly fell within the Zone A, no one is mentioning about lack of governance. When two siblings, aged two and four, died in the storm, reporters questioned why their neighbor did not open the doors, but there is no question asked as to why the entire region was so inaccessible for officials and relief workers all these days. If media can reach nook and corners of flood affected areas to declare “breaking stories” every now and then, what possibly has been preventing the government officials from reaching out to the affected people with basic food, clothing and shelters? How long are the victims of American capitalism supposed to remain grateful towards their perpetrators for the false reassurance that they are being taken care of?

Hundreds of patients silently suffered the storm because they believed in the government for weeks that everything was being taken care of. Even after days have passed since the storm worst-hit the areas, people are still silently believing the government when the President says that everything was being taken care of. Tens of thousands of “public housing” residents were forcefully evacuated because power needed to be disconnected in lower Manhattan and yet within two days the rich started functioning again amidst cheers and whistles at the Stock Exchange right in the middle of the Sandy’s eye. And the people following their dreamy pied piper are believing the President when he implies that in taking care of the Stock Exchange, the dead will find justice. The lying President and his unprepared team suddenly turn teary-eyed and appeal to the neighbors to help each other in times of crisis while they merrily resume the services of Wall Street capitalism with generators and drinking water and food supplies without a blink. When millions of people continue to brave the winter nights without heat and fill plastic bottles with water from fire hydrants, the Obama administration loses no moment in providing electricity to the “Freedom Tower” right in Lower Manhattan catering to the wealthiest of the lot in this country.

Contrary to how the Obama regime paints the picture, the hurricane Sandy was not an unfortunate event. It was an inevitable one. What is unfortunate is the embarrassing administration in Washington DC today and the capitalistic economic system that it supports and furthers, the farcical elections that it holds by spending $6 billion of taxpayer money towards an extravaganza at a time when hundreds of men, women and children are found dead and thousands missing owing to governmental apathy and administrative inactions.

If the corporate honchos at Wall Street can get power back and running in two days, there is no telling why grieving mothers and dying toddlers must remain without power and suffer without food; communities devastated and neighbors estranged; while the government turns its focus towards “swing states” to plead for votes while condemning the victims of its administrative disaster to the whims of charity.

But then, in this strange world of Obama and his liberal cronies, the Stock Exchange has more “power” than its “natural” victims.

Economy Democracy Manifesto

A new historical vista is opening before us in this time of change. Capitalism as a system has spawned deepening economic crisis alongside its bought-and-paid for political establishment. Neither serves the needs of our society. Whether it is secure, well-paid and meaningful jobs or a sustainable relationship with the natural environment that we depend on, our society is not delivering the results people need and deserve. We do not have the lives we want and our children’s future is threatened because of social conditions that can and should be changed. One key cause for this intolerable state of affairs is the lack of genuine democracy in our economy as well as in our politics. One key solution is thus the institution of genuine economic democracy as the basis for a genuine political democracy as well. That means transforming the workplace in our society as we propose in what follows.

We are encouraged by The Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement spreading across the United States and beyond. Not only does OWS express a widespread popular rejection of our system’s social injustice and lack of democracy. OWS is also a movement for goals that include economic democracy. We welcome, support, and seek to build OWS as the urgently needed, broad movement to reorganize our society, to make our institutions accountable to the public will, and to establish both economic democracy and ecological sanity.

1) Capitalism and “delivering the goods”

Capitalism today abuses the people, environment, politics and culture in equal measures. It has fostered new extremes of wealth and poverty inside most countries, and such extremes always undermine or prevent democratic politics. Capitalist production for profit likewise endangers us by its global warming, widening pollution, and looming energy crisis. And now capitalism’s recurrent instability (what others call the “business cycle”) has plunged the world into the second massive global economic crisis in the last 75 years.

Yet both Republican and Democratic governments have failed to bring a recovery to the great mass of the American people. We continue to face high unemployment and home foreclosures alongside shrinking real wages, benefits and job security. Thus, increasing personal debt is required to secure basic needs. The government uses our taxes to bring recovery from the economic crisis to banks, stock markets, and major corporations. We have waited for bailouts of the corporate rich to trickle down to the rest of us; it never happened. To pay for their recovery we are told now to submit to cuts in public services, public employment, and even our social security and Medicare benefits. The budget deficits and national debts incurred to save capitalism from its own fundamental flaws are now used to justify shifting the cost of their recovery onto everyone else. We should not pay for capitalism’s crisis and for the government’s unjust and failed response to that crisis. It is time to take a different path, to make long-overdue economic, social and political changes.

We begin by drawing lessons from previous efforts to go beyond capitalism. Traditional socialism – as in the USSR – emphasized public instead of private ownership of means of production and government economic planning instead of markets. But that concentrated too much power in the government and thereby corrupted the socialist project. Yet the recent reversions back to capitalism neither overcame nor rectified the failures of Soviet-style socialism.

We have also learned from the last great capitalist crisis in the US during the1930s. Then an unprecedented upsurge of union organizing by the CIO and political mobilizations by Socialist and Communist parties won major reforms: establishing Social Security and unemployment insurance, creating and filling 11 million federal jobs. Very expensive reforms in the middle of a depression were paid for in part by heavily taxing corporations and the rich (who were also then heavily regulated). However, New Deal reforms were evaded, weakened or abolished in the decades after 1945. To increase their profits, major corporate shareholders and their boards of directors had every incentive to dismantle reforms. They used their profits to undo the New Deal. Reforms won will always remain insecure until workers who benefit from the reforms are in the position of receiving the profits of their enterprises and using them to extend, not undermine, those reforms.

The task facing us, therefore, goes well beyond choosing between private and public ownership and between markets and planning. Nor can we be content to re-enact reforms that capitalist enterprises can and will undermine. These are not our only alternatives. The strategy we propose is to establish a genuinely democratic basis – by means of reorganizing our productive enterprises – to support those reforms and that combination of property ownership and distribution of resources and products that best serve our social, cultural and ecological needs.

2) Economic Democracy at the Workplace and in Society

The change we propose – as a new and major addition to the agenda for social change – is to occur inside production: inside the enterprises and other institutions (households, the state, schools, and so on) that produce and distribute the goods and services upon which society depends. Wherever production occurs, the workers must become collectively their own bosses, their own board of directors. Everyone’s job description would change: in addition to your specific task, you would be required to participate fully in designing and running the enterprise. Decisions once made by private corporate boards of directors or state officials – what, how and where to produce and how to use the revenues received – would instead be made collectively and democratically by the workers themselves. Education would be redesigned to train all persons in the leadership and control functions now reserved for elites.

Such a reorganization of production would finally and genuinely subordinate the state to the people. The state’s revenues (taxes, etc.) would depend on what the workers gave the state out of the revenues of the workers’ enterprises. Instead of capitalists, a small minority, funding and thereby controlling the state, the majority – workers – would finally gain that crucial social position.

Of course, workplace democracy must intertwine with community democracy in the residential locations that are mutually interactive and interdependent with work locations. Economic and political democracy need and would reinforce one another. Self-directed workers and self-directed community residents must democratically share decision-making at both locations. Local, regional and national state institutions will henceforth incorporate shared democratic decision-making between workplace and residence based communities. Such institutions would draw upon the lessons of past capitalist and socialist experiences.

3) Benefits of Workplace Democracy

When workforce and residential communities decide together how the economy evolves, the results will differ sharply from the results of capitalism. Workplace democracy would not, for example, move production to other countries as capitalist corporations have done. Workers’ self-directed enterprises would not pay a few top managers huge salaries and bonuses while most workers’ paychecks and benefits stagnate. Worker-run enterprises sharing democratic decision-making with surrounding communities would not install toxic and dangerous technologies as capitalist enterprises often do to earn more profits. They would, however, be far more likely to provide daycare, elder care and other supportive services. For the first time in human history, societies could democratically rethink and re-organize the time they devote to work, play, relationships, and cultural activities. Instead of complaining that we lack time for the most meaningful parts of our lives, we could together decide to reduce labor time, to concentrate on the consumer goods we really need, and thereby to allow more time for the important relationships in our lives. We might thereby overcome the divisions and tensions (often defined in racial, gender, ethnic, religious, and other terms) that capitalism imposes on populations by splitting them into fully employed, partly employed, and contingent laborers, and those excluded from the labor market.

A new society can be built on the basis of democratically reorganizing our workplaces, where adults spend most of their lifetimes. Over recent centuries, the human community dispensed with kings, emperors, and czars in favor of representative (and partly democratic) parliaments and congresses. The fears and warnings of disaster by those opposed to that social change were proved wrong by history. The change we advocate today takes democracy another necessary and logical step: into the workplace. Those who fear (and threaten) that it will not work will likewise be proven wrong.

4) An Immediate and Realistic Project

There are practical and popular steps we can take now toward realizing economic democracy. Against massive, wasteful and cruel unemployment and poverty, we propose a new kind of public works program. It would differ from the federal employment programs of the New Deal (when FDR hired millions of the unemployed) in two ways. First, it would focus on a “green” and support service agenda. By “green” we mean massively improving the sustainability of workplace and residential communities by, for example, building energy-saving mass transportation systems, restoring waterways, forests, etc., weatherizing residential and workplace structures, and establishing systematic anti-pollution programs. By “support service” we mean new programs of children’s day-care and elder-care to help all families coping with the conditions of work and demographics in the US today.

However, the new kind of pubic works program we propose would differ even more dramatically from all past public works projects. Instead of paying a weekly dole to the unemployed, our public works program would emphasize providing the unemployed with the funds to begin and build their own cooperative, self-directed democratic enterprises.

The gains from this project are many. The ecological benefits alone would make this the most massive environmental program in US history. Economic benefits would be huge as millions of citizens restore self-esteem damaged by unemployment and earn incomes enabling them to keep their homes and, by their purchases, provide jobs to others. Public employment at decent pay for all would go a long way toward lessening the gender, racial, and other job discriminations now dividing our people.

A special benefit would be a new freedom of choice for Americans. As a people, we could see, examine and evaluate the benefits of working inside enterprises where every worker is both employee and employer, where decisions are debated and decided democratically. For the first time in US history, we will begin to enjoy this freedom of choice: working in a top-down, hierarchically organized capitalist corporation or working in a cooperative, democratic workplace. The future of our society will then depend on how Americans make that choice, and that is how the future of a democratic society should be determined.

5) The Rich Roots Sustaining this Project

Americans have been interested in and built various kinds of cooperative enterprises – more or less non-capitalist enterprises – throughout our history. The idea of building a “cooperative commonwealth” has repeatedly attracted many. Today, an estimated 13.7 million Americans work in 11,400 Employee Stock Ownership Plan companies (ESOPs), in which employees own part or all of those companies. So-called “not-for-profit” enterprises abound across the US in many different fields. Some alternative, non-capitalist enterprises are inspired by the example of Mondragon, a federation of over 250 democratically-run worker cooperatives employing 100,000 based in Spain’s Basque region. Since their wages are determined by the worker-owners themselves, the ratio between the wages of those with mostly executive functions and others average 5:1 as compared to the 475:1 in contemporary capitalist multinational corporations.

The US cooperative movement stretches today from the Arizmendi Association (San Francisco Bay) to the Vida Verde Cleaning Cooperative (Massachusetts) to Black Star Collective Pub and Brewery (Austin, Texas), to name just a few. The largest conglomerate of worker owned co-operatives in the U.S. is the “Evergreen Cooperative Model” (or “Cleveland Model”), consisting e.g. of the Evergreen Cooperative Laundry (ECL), the Ohio Cooperative Solar (OCS), and the Green City Growers. These cooperatives share a) common ownership and democracy at the workplace; b) ecological commitments to produce sustainable goods and services and create “green jobs”, and c) new kinds of communal economic planning, mediated by “anchor institutions” (e.g. universities, non-profit hospitals), community foundations, development funds, state-owned banks or employee ownership banks etc. Such cooperatives are generating new concepts and kinds of economic development.

These examples’ varying kinds and degrees of democracy in the workplace all attest to an immense social basis of interest in and commitment to non-capitalist forms of work. Contrary to much popular mythology, there is a solid popular base for a movement to expand and diversify the options for organizing production. Workplace democracy responds to deep needs and desires.

If you are interested in getting further information about this proposal, in joining the discussion it engages, or in participating in activities to achieve its realization, please find us on Facebook at Economic Democracy Manifesto or email

“Economic Democracy Manifesto” Group

David van Arsdale
Michael McCabe
Costas Panayotakis
Jan Rehmann
Sohnya Sayres
Billy Wharton
Richard D. Wolff

The Global Town Teach-In (April 25, 2012)

The Global Town Teach-In:
Building a New Economy and New Wealth through Democracy Networks,
Green Jobs and Planning and an Alternative Financial System
Time and Day: April 25, 2012, 12 Noon Eastern Standard


The Global Teach-In is designed to address the general problems associated with the Triple Crisis and the need to address alternative security policies. The “triple crisis” can be defined by: economics (inequality, deindustrialization, mass unemployment, or the privatization and “de-democratization” of public goods), the environment (pollution, increased greenhouse gas emissions, and depletion of species) and reliance on unsustainable energy supplies (diminished stocks of cheap oil, use of oil in hard to get or insecure areas, and substitution of land used to grow food to supply alternative fuels). The need for alternative security policies involves the need to transcend costly “hard power” and traditional military strategies in an era in which growing debt, ecological threats, the opportunity costs of military spending and the rise of asymmetric warfare reveal the limits to the traditional national security model.

Policies and Alternative Institutions

The Global Teach-In will discuss policy and institutional solutions at the global, national and local levels. First, we will discuss how a Green New Deal would expand jobs, investments and research in alternative energy and mass transportation. These will provide a means for reducing carbon emissions, creating new sources of wealth and increasing living standards. Second, we will examine how Green planning can lead to the creation of metropolitan regions where residential and labor markets are more proximate, where housing is sustainable and affordable, where products are designed to be durable and recyclable, and where designs generally reflect user interests and needs. Third, we will examine a variety of ways in which alternative economic institutions have been developed that serve to promote locally anchored and sustainable communities (in terms of ecological impacts and the durability of employment). These ways include institutions and policies such as: cooperatives, community and socially minded banks, sustainable utilities, buy local and green procurement policies, electoral measures mandating clean energy, campaigns to patronize alternative economic institutions, green civilian conversion of defense and petroleum-dependent firms, and more equitable taxation and alternative budgetary policies.


The Global Teach-In has been supported by academic, professional, media, labor, peace and environmental organizations and individuals associated with these. We aim to promote a broad coalition among such groups and political leaders, entrepreneurs, trade unions and interest citizens to foster a dialogue about the need for a new, comprehensive global agenda that can be initiated through a series of related local actions. We will showcase “best practices” and barriers to extending alternative models.

Format and Ambitions

The Global Teach-In will promote local study and action circles prior to the broadcast to facilitate an agenda for questions to guide discussions.

The Event

The April 25th, 2012 broadcast will be followed by discussions within localities about how to address the agenda proposed by the teach-in. The Global Teach-In will promote links and synergies between diverse constituencies and projects to help each locality achieve its objectives. For example, money moved into community banks can fund cooperatives and green technology projects. Alternative utilities and energy can help power new mass transit systems. Electoral measures to mandate alternative or clean energy can build green markets.

The Global Teach-In will take place in multiple locations through face to face meetings linked to an electronic broadcast in the U.S. and Europe including: Ann Arbor, Belfast (UK), Boston, Los Angeles, Madison, New York, San Francisco, Stockholm (Sweden), Washington, D.C. We are also interested organizing other locations and we welcome your suggestions and ideas. Interested parties should contact us at: Thank you for your interest!

Direct and Indirect Costs of the US Financial Crisis

Deepankar Basu

The global financial crisis that started with the bursting of the housing bubble in the U.S. in 2007 imposed both direct and indirect costs on the working and middle class populations. The direct costs are those associated with the bail-out of financial institutions, which will ultimately be borne by the taxpayers; the indirect costs are those associated with the ensuing economic crisis and the deep and prolonged recession that came in its wake, which, again, will be mostly borne by the working class population. While both costs lead to increasing deficits, and over time accumulating debt, of the federal government, they are of vastly unequal magnitudes. The direct cost (i.e., the costs associated with bailing out the financial institutions immediately after the crisis) is much smaller than the indirect cost (i.e., the cost, in terms of rising unemployment and government deficit if one considers the latter a cost, arising due to the recession); the contribution of the bail-out funds to the build-up of sovereign debt, in the US (and Europe), is minuscule compared to the contribution of the indirect cost (the widening gap between tax receipts and government outlays caused by the recession).

Many people on the left, by emphasizing the cost of bailing out financial institutions (and its contribution to sovereign debt build-up), target the wrong, and smaller, costs. There are two senses in which targeting the bail out funds is incorrect. First, the magnitude of those costs are small compared to the indirect costs. Second, if the direct costs had not been incurred, i.e., if the system continued to be organized around capitalist lines and the financial system had not been bailed out, the ensuing recession would have been deeper and hence the indirect costs, ultimately borne by the working and middle class people, even higher.

It is important to be clear that the workings of the financial sector under capitalism imposes enormous costs on the working and middle class people not only because it needs to be bailed out when the system hits the fan, as happened in 2008. The financial sector imposes much larger costs by the sheer magnitude of the externality of its actions on the working class, by the structural refusal to internalize the costs of its speculative activities, by increasing the financial fragility of the system when the bubble is inflating and ushering in the deep and prolonged recession that inevitably arrives when the bubble bursts. The direct cost of bailing out the financial system when the crisis breaks out is small compared to the indirect cost that comes from the externality of its casino-like activities. In fact, if the financial system had not been bailed out, the indirect costs would have been even higher because the recession would have almost certainly turned into a depression (of the magnitude that the world witnessed during the 1930s).

FIGURE 1: Time series plot of changes in the index of house prices in major US cities


Let us study the US economy and try to understand the difference between the direct and indirect costs of the financial crisis of 2008-09. Recall that the the housing bubble in the US started deflating from around late 2006 (Figure 1). The securitization process that had built itself on the shaky foundations of the housing bubble started unraveling within a year, and the financial crisis broke out in real earnest in 2008. The financial system went into panic, credit markets froze (as banks stopped lending to each other and to nonfinancial firms) and this sent shock-waves through the US government and the Federal Reserve circles. Monetary policy had already kicked in at least an year ago, with the Fed slashing short term interest rates and making liquidity available to the financial system (see Figure 2). But this was clearly not enough.

FIGURE 2: Short term interest rates in the US


To unfreeze credit markets and deal with the growing panic, the US Treasury department adopted the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP) in early October 2008. The conceptualization of the TARP went through two rounds. In the first round, the US Treasury argued that the TARP should buy out the toxic assets (i.e., assets that drew its value from the housing market like mortgage backed securities, the collateraized debt obligations, etc., and were now more or less worthless) from financial institutions to restore confidence in the financial markets and prevent widespread bankruptcies. Very soon it became clear that this strategy would not work because it was impossible to ascertain the “true” value of the toxic assets. In other words, it was not clear at what price the assets should be bought for by the US Treasury. Hence, this strategy was abandoned and in the second round of iteration, TARP was conceptualized as a recapitalization program. This entailed lending money (or other liquid assets like Treasury bills) to financial institutions but in return taking ownership shares of those institutions.

The bail out of the financial institutions that we now talk about is precisely TARP as a method to recapitalize financial institutions, in particular banks, credit market institutions, the automobile industry and the insurance giant AIG, by injecting fresh capital into their balance sheets in lieu of ownership shares. How much money was involved? Initially, TARP was thought to involve $700 billion. But, the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act reduced the maximum authorization for the TARP from $700 billion to $475 billion. The TARP ended on October 3, 2010 and had by then disbursed only a total of $411 billion. Of this, 77%, i.e., $318 billion, has already been recovered through repayments, dividends, interest and other income earnings of the US Treasury.

In fact, the part of TARP funds that was lent to banks has already been recovered with a profit: a total of $245 billion was invested in banks, and it has been recovered with a profit of about $20 billion. It is estimated that the overall cost of TARP, after all recoveries are taken into account, will amount to $70 billion, only about a tenth of the original amount of $700 billion. Hence, it is clear that the overall contribution of the TARP (the bailing-out of the financial system) to the deficit (and outstanding debt) of the US government is not large. The direct cost of the financial crisis, in terms of the funds required to bail out the financial system during the peak of the crisis, is not very large when compared to the indirect cost, to which we now turn.

FIGURE 3: Civilian Unemployment Rate in the US

(Source: Federal Reserve Bank of St Louis,

The indirect cost arose because of the magnification of the effects of a downturn into a deep and prolonged recession, the magnification being caused by the fragility of the financial system. Unemployment rates went through the roof and continues to be at historically high levels despite the official end of the recession in the second quarter of 2009; the labour force participation rates have fallen due to discouraged unemployed workers dropping out of the labour force; the median duration of unemployment has increased to extremely high levels; the share of long term unemployed workers has grown to postwar highs (see Figure 3 and 4 for some details).

FIGURE 4: Civilian Participation Rate in the US

(Source: Federal Reserve Bank of St Louis,

While it might be difficult to accurately quantify these losses, it seems clear that they are far higher than the $70 loss that the taxpayer will be saddled with due to the bail out of the financial sector. For instance, some studies suggest that about 7 million workers have been displaced from long-term employment during the Great Recession, only a subset of all workers who have been adversely hit by job losses. These 7 million workers will experience an income loss of about $774 billion over the next 25 years.

In a similar vein, the contribution of the direct investment from TARP to the growth of the fiscal deficit is small compared to the contribution due to the recession. Figure 5 plots the net outlays (i.e., net of interest payments of its debt) of the federal government, the receipts of the federal government and the difference between the two for the period 2006-2011. It can be seen from Figure 5 that the major jump in the deficit occurred between 2007 and 2009, a period during which it increased by about $1252 billion. This increase was the result of an increase in net outlays (i.e., expenditure) by about $788 billion and a fall in receipts of around $463 billion. Even assuming that the total $411 billion disbursed by the US Treasury for the TARP had occurred during that period (which it clearly did not), it is only about a third of the increase of the federal deficit during that period. Thus, close to (or more than) two-thirds of the increase in the federal government deficit was the result of non-bail out costs.

FIGURE 5: Deficit of the US Federal Government

(Source: Federal Reserve Bank of St Louis,

Looking at the plots of the outlays and receipts of the US federal government in Figure 5, we clearly see that the two series have diverged significantly since the start of the Great Recession. Even though net outlays (i.e., expenditures) have flattened out since 2010, receipts (i.e., tax revenues) have not picked up in any major way. Thus, the gap between the two continues to be big, in excess of $1000 billion every year. This huge gap is what lies behind the deficit and mounting debt of the US government, not the $70 billion that will be the net cost of the TARP. It is more or less certain that a similar account would be accurate for Europe also, i.e., the largest portion of the debt of Eurozone governments would be the result of indirect costs and not the direct cost of bailing out the financial sector during the crisis of 2008.


To conclude, let me summarize the argument. It is important to distinguish between the direct costs (i.e., bail out of the financial sector through the TARP) and indirect costs (rise in unemployment and the growth of the government debt due to the deep and prolonged recession) of the financial crisis and focus on the second rather than the first. This is because the second is much larger in magnitude than the first. In fact, it is not even clear that the first can be considered a cost because without bailing out the financial sector via recapitalization (or temporary and partial nationalization), the recession would certainly have been deeper, increasing the burden on the working people. In addition, concentrating on the second cost allows us to focus on the systemic aspect of the costs that the financial sector, in its speculative avatar, imposes on the working and middle class population of a country. This forces us to conceptualize an alternative that is likewise systemic in nature and goes beyond arguing against bail out of financial sector firms.

Deepankar Basu is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Economics, University of Massachusetts.

What the Occupy Movement fails to do

Prakash Kona

I never understood what the Occupy Movement aimed to achieve to begin with. Either it was too ambitious in aspiring to challenge corporate despotism or its goals were impossible to begin with. Not to mention it continues to be abstract and surreal as ever. I like to watch the protesters on TV who sometimes look innocent to me. The comparison with the Arab Spring by way of analogy is a completely wrong one. The comparison is not between apples and oranges since both are fruits but more like comparing a blue stocking with oxtail soup. Those who have traveled or at least have watched international movies with interest know for a fact that third world streets have a different character from those of the first world. Third world streets like third world life are filled with all too visible contradictions. The contradictions are disguised in the colonial economies of the west. The Occupy Movement and the Arab Spring are as distinct as Tahrir Square and Wall Street and the people who stand there.

That’s not the point however. What I fail to understand about the Occupy Movement is what exactly they intend to achieve with the “occupation”? If their aim is to make people aware of inequalities in society, the people already are in my view. If their aim is to challenge corporatism I don’t think this is going to happen by standing on a street. If the police eventually evacuated them, what do you want the police to do? To stand and watch the protesters as if it were a scene in the setting of a Hollywood film. Even if there were no police how long the standing around is expected to continue?

Seriously I’m suspicious of motives with which people arrive on a platform though I’m not cynical to the extent of doubting what the ones inspired with a sense of justice are capable of achieving. Definitely the Occupy Movement is not a prelude to a revolution of sorts. It is not a prelude either to political awakening because I’m certain that common people are conscious of the line of thought taken by the Occupy Movement. There are no lessons to be gained by its failure since not much was meant to be achieved by its success. I’m afraid very soon it’ll evacuate public memory as well and turn into one of those countless additions to Democracy in the western sense of the term with all its accompanying benefits in terms of being able to speak against authority without fear of getting killed or going to jail is the goal of Arab Spring. What is the goal of the Occupy Movement which is already happening within the parameters of an established democracy? The Haussmannized streets of carefully planned western cities will not allow for an armed insurrection of any kind. The European Revolutions of 1848 lead to a complete renovation of Paris and other cities making it possible for the state’s armed forces to brutally suppress any possibility of an uprising. If the Occupy Movement was peaceful and nonviolent it owed to lack of choice more than anything else. In principle I don’t think there could be peaceful movements. They are bound to be provocative in passive resistance as much as in active resistance.

If the goal of the movement is to fight inequalities it can demonstrate its true intentions in the politics of daily life. Western lifestyles which thrive on excess are anathema. The working classes irrespective of where they are from – ultimately they want those who speak of equality to work and live like the poor. Unless the protestors are one with those whom they claim to speak for, their movement will at best be cumulative acts of frustration put together. Only the discipline that comes with living, working and thinking like the masses can confront Wall Street who George Carlin refers to as the America’s “real owners.” Back in the 19th century when Jane Addams the prominent feminist and public philosopher went to meet Tolstoy, he not only called her an “absentee landlord” but asked her the question: “Do you think you will help the people more by adding yourself to the crowded city than you would by tilling your own soil?” This is not to disparage Jane Addams who is a unique woman and profound thinker in her own right but to say that the divorce between living like the poor and talking about them is more prominent with American forms of protest than perhaps with the European who might have a slightly more realistic view of life in relation to politics and change.

The fact that despite the growing poverty and unemployment no social revolt is possible in the United States is evident owing to the success of the propaganda machinery. The Steve Jobs phenomenon that occupied media attention says everything about the success of American propaganda. Suddenly Steve Jobs (who most people did not even hear of until he died) is the new hero for the young, right from Japan to India all the way to the Middle East (since he had a Syrian Sunni Muslim father who abandoned him by the way) and of course Europe and the United States. Steve Jobs like any other corporate warlord achieved his success through a combination of uncanny brilliance and ruthless elimination of competition. That’s how business empires are built – by eliminating the small in order to arrive at the big. Steve Jobs’ success is possible because he is a white guy and if the world knew that there is a Sunni Muslim Arab hiding beneath the whiteness it would have been harder for him to reach where he did.

For all their private suffering men like Jobs are contemptible to say the least. It amazes me therefore that so many people should want to be Steve Jobs without realizing that these are media manufactured heroes. These are not the blatantly impossible individual achievements that we see in the novels of Ayn Rand. These are facades that global capitalism needs to lead the educated masses to play their role in global exploitation of the poor. This “hero” making formula is used day in day out by American television and Hollywood while parroted by the rest of the world, with sportspeople or actors or business entrepreneurs in turns becoming heroes out of nowhere. All dropouts are not going to be Steve Jobs. Unfortunately most dropouts would like to believe that they could be so. That’s how propaganda works.

To date I attribute the success of American imperialism not to its military prowess which truly speaking is pretty pathetic given their poorly motivated cadres. The fact that they’ve been for so many years in Afghanistan and yet a barely armed but ruthless Taliban continues to gives them the shudder says everything about the so-called military power of the US. You need people to fight wars and not technology is a lesson that comes out rather well in the Afghanistan fiasco. Rather, it is to TV serials such as the globally popular “Friends” that America owes its real success. I’ve met people from various countries of the world who talk and think like those characters in the “Friends” sitcom. This is where we need to challenge American domination of the third world. At the same time that they are defeated economically and politically it is imperative that American hegemony be destroyed culturally as well to give alternate ways of expression a possibility to see the light of day.

The Occupy Movement if at all there is one in all sincerity should go to the small towns and take a walk through those parts of the cities that the poor inhabit. That’s where real America lives. Not in the universities and certainly not in the big cities. It is those small town Americans who are real harbingers of social and political change. The spaces that the media is not interested in – those are the spaces where real change is possible. To educate the poor and to selflessly work toward the uplift of the downtrodden classes – that’s the day the corporate world will begin to have sleepless nights.

Prakash Kona is an Associate Professor at the Department of English Literature, The English and Foreign Languages University (EFLU), Hyderabad.

Occupy Wall Street: Challenges, Privileges and Futures

Saswat Pattanayak

“He who tells the people revolutionary legends,
he who amuses them with sensational stories,
is as criminal as the geographer
who would draw up false charts for navigators.”

HPO Lissagaray, “History of the Paris Commune of 1871” (1877)

The challenges to Occupy Wall Street are many. Some even more critical than the very issues the protestors are fighting against. Whereas it claims to be the 99%, yet the movement practices the age-old privileges of class and race blindness. Similar to most white liberal movements, the OWS is hardly inclusive of the people of colour. Although the spirit is radical and the intent is revolutionary, the movement itself suffers from a lack of critical understanding on how race and class intersect. In reality, 99% of people do not form a class in themselves. This is because the 99% of population comprise a significant amount of aspiring rich, a “middle class” category of people who have steadfastly refused to side with the poor working class whenever the latter has organised itself. In the US, this segment of opportunistic liberal citizens have always believed in the country’s racist foundations, its heritage of exclusionary democracy, and its segregated educational system, and amply benefited from patriotic allegiances. And as a result, they have lent unconditional supports to electoral reforms that sustain an individualistic social order, to corporate policies that help private business thrive, to political outfits such as the Democratic Party in recent times, which upholds the status quo in every level of governance defining American imperialism.

Whither Class Struggle?

In the current romanticised version of revolutionary zeal at the Wall Street protests, there is a marked denial on part of the “General Assembly” of the movement that it could be perceived as supportive of the status quo. Proudly boasting of a movement without specific goals and leaders, the movement publishes formal newspapers and handouts clearly stating its disavowal of “Tea Party” right-wing movements. Not only is the OWS appearing left-wing and liberal – a political lineage that may not find endorsement among the 99% of people – it is also claiming to be without ideologies and specific goals. OWS is in a state of denial that anarchism of various forms are themselves ideologies, and the organisers of the movements are their leaders, the money which enables publications of the “Occupied Wall Street Journal” has sources to its sponsors. If rejection of current economic situation is the inspiration for the movement, the rejection of the current economic situation is the goal.

Calling the 99 percent

The biggest challenge for the OWS is to humbly acknowledge that it is a movement driven by a specific ideology which refuses the use of violence as a revolutionary tool, demands increased taxes for the rich, envisions student debt relief, opposes the Tea Party politicians, demands “direct democracy” as a political approach, and has raised over a half a million dollars within a couple of weeks to fund its campaign. And, it has allowed MoveOn, a multimillion dollar partisan initiative to speak on behalf of OWS to the media. The Occupy project has organisers who decide when the General Assembly will take place, which celebrity will address them, which entertainers will put up shows, which specific websites will be declared “official”, which post-box addresses the charity checks will be received at, and what heads will the money be spent on. Despite massive financial assets, when the OWS refuses to replace the drums of an activist which was destroyed at the protests, it is unilaterally decided by the specific organisers.

In their postmodernist hues, when political movements decry ideologies, refuse to take sides on political issues and pretend to distance themselves from power struggles, they smack of redundancy at best, and hypocrisy, at worst. When the educated youths refuse to acknowledge their race and class prerogatives, and claim that their movements let everyone have equal voice, it speaks of the gravely misplaced understanding of how freedom of speech is interlaced with entitlements. If the Occupy movement has not attracted majority of Black and Latino people into its fold, it is a sad reflection of how the movement has failed to address the needs of the most oppressed while boasting of representing them.

Seeking Wider Audience

People of colour are disproportionately incarcerated, disenfranchised, and unemployed in the United States. There is a rigid American class society in place ever since the country was founded. And yet, “class” as a realistically oppressive concept is seldom discussed in the country. Without any necessary critiques of the class society, majority of white liberals almost never understand their hidden privileges. They unequivocally endorse similar newspapers, television channels and textbooks that are inherently biased against class and race analysis. They invariably exalt founding fathers who owned slaves, presidents who denied racial disparities, and swear by the prison-military-industrial complex of the largest imperialistic society in history of humanity. OWS is based on the primary notion that the American society was absolutely democratic and fulfilling until Reagan spoilt the show. If they tried to include black people who suffered the brutality of every presidential regime in American history, the Occupy movement would not be wishing for the American democratic model to continue while singling out Wall Street.

Work Assignment Activism

Occupy Wall Street has every possibility of becoming its own nemesis. A separation of economy from politics of the day is naive and reactionary. Merely opposing a bunch of corporate houses in the Wall Street without disrupting the political climate in Washington DC is a hopeless distraction. Calling for arms may or may not be a suitable alternative to political misrule, but to clearly disavow any use of violence while calling for “revolution” is a utopian approach. In fact, just around the time when majority of Americans were clearly fed up and were beginning to demonstrate repressed anger with the entire political establishment, when a Malcolm X demand for replacement of the existing political economy by “any means necessary” was going to be a possibility; a movement that preaches nonviolence and targets a few corporate houses as the only stumbling blocks in the path to progress while giving the Democratic Party and its fundraisers a space within its platform either defies progressive logic, or works towards crushing collective demands for concrete replacements at the corridors of power, in lieu of possible electoral gains in the coming year.

The usual occupiers

The problem with a movement such as OWS is that majority of white liberals who protest at Wall Street do not live in coloured neighbourhoods, nor do they acknowledge that they have any similarities with the poor working class of the country, the homeless and the destitute of America, the black families whose children are imprisoned without trials, the Latino construction workers whose health issues are not covered by any insurance corporations that the otherwise liberal Democratic Party leaders have been receiving donations from. Yet, year after year when neglected teenagers from minority communities are routinely murdered and assaulted and detained without justice, most white liberals refuse to show up at demonstrations led by minority leaders to challenge the police state. The OWS should be a venue for rendering apologies with an effort to seek supports of lesser privileged comrades, not as a self-proclaimed glorified uniqueness in the history of protest movements.

Not so inclusive general assembly

Serious issues have been affecting the majority of people in America; they are all for real. They have been well known crisis, nothing abstract to articulate for months on. The tall claims for forming “consensus” through direct democracy are also without merit considering that a huge majority of people that are apparently being represented by the OWS, are the very folks who are not privileged enough to join the “General Assembly”; and timely decisions must be taken on behalf of them without waiting for any consensus. This demands for organised leaderships charting out the most pressing – and therefore, known – issues affecting the most oppressed.

Krishna Consciousness occupying the Wall Street!

For instance, unemployment crisis is neither new nor shocking for the people of colour in this country. Racism is alive and thriving at an institutional level. And demonstrations and marches have been carried out by black people in this country against unjustified administrative policies concerning wars, atrocities, discrimination, and immigration procedures. People of colour vastly are drafted into the military facilitated by an economic system that has failed to work for them from the days of slavery. It is not a mere coincidence that Wall Street is not controlled by racial minorities. In fact, it is a common knowledge that capitalism was founded by plantation/slave economies.

Music to Pacify

That, the majority of working class folks of colour who survive by dodging random bullets in their abjectly neglected neighbourhoods shall suddenly identify with the rich spoilt educated group of youngsters that abruptly woke up to an accidental American nightmare while having always lived amidst downtown luxuries remaining predictably clueless on specific demands of a movement, is an insensitive expectation. That, the “illegal aliens” from the restaurant kitchens owned by overprivileged “citizens” who are upholding American flags at the Occupy Wall Street, will somehow join this movement to sing glories of “First Amendment” rights of the liberals selectively granted by a Constitution that refuses to recognise people in dire despair as full human beings, is utterly inconsiderate a demand.

A movement which fails to adequately address the needs of the most oppressed among the oppressed is a movement that somehow must end up diluting the most basic needs of the society with the peripherals. Such a movement can only enhance general cynicism, which is certainly a desirable wake-up call, but transformative revolutions that address the roots and not just symptoms call for agenda-driven optimism, armed organisations for self-defence, and principled leaderships with theorised visions that must replace political economies which have failed their subjects for hundreds of years.

Political Alternative?

Occupy Wall Street has the same potential of evolving into a revolution as countless other marches across the globe. The first American peoples’ revolution would have well begun, if occupations had inculcated limitless revolutionary imaginings, duly recognised the possible sparks, drew the most oppressed to clearly charted out radical visions in a timely manner, dissociated itself from the very political parties and electoral systems which have historically facilitated capitalism and phony democracies,

After all, there are no surprises in revolutions. They are historical necessities.

Wall Street Spring: Americans Demand Democracy

Saswat Pattanayak

The homeless and the Hippies, the socialists and the students, the communists and the commoners – the Wall Street has been occupied for good by the countless human beings demanding dignity of life denied to them under American capitalism. Every disenfranchised minority is now decrying the citadel of private capital, greed and monstrosity. And contrary to White House assertions and corporate media verdicts, the defamed Wall Street has been denied a bail-out – by the people of the United States.

Braving the NYPD interventions and assaults, seeking solidarity with the otherwise indifferent bystanders, and hoping that the collective aspirations of the oppressed masses finally prevail, thousands of radicals are demanding the revolution – not in faraway Libya or Syria, but right here in the centerpiece of global imperialism, in the New York City. This is the Wall Street Spring – a significant demonstration of solidarity among anti-capitalists and class struggle prisoners!

Wall Street Spring is radical in manners that have shaken the foundation of mainstream media in this country. Both liberal and conservative media have cautiously covered this uprising, essentially because unlike in the past, this gathering is truly diverse, and phenomenally radical. The revolutionaries are not endorsing any simplistic political ploy by a liberal party to garner support through expressions of politically correct rhetoric. In fact, quite the contrary. A placard prominently reads – mocking the Democrats – “Job Creators, my ass”.

In many ways, “Occupy Wall Street” is reminiscent of the several marches across the country over the past decades. People from various sections of society have gathered to march against police brutality and societal inequality. And yet in significant ways, it is rather different. The goal today is not to reconcile following legislative changes, but to revolt to ensure a peoples’ democracy. The march is not silent. The march is not harmoniously conducted hand in hand with musical backgrounds. The march today is disparate, heterogeneous, expressive of collective anger and resentment against the status quo. More of an extension of the Black Panthers taking over college campuses with loudspeakers and radical agendas; than a pacified demonstration of hopeful placards. It is not a congregation to reconstruct the capitalistic society, it is one that speaks through the voice of the latest victim Troy Davis: “Dismantle this unjust system”.

“You Must be Asleep to Experience American Dream”

Long ago, Malcolm X announced how he was experiencing American Nightmare, not American Dream. For several decades his call for the people to literally “wake up” were ridiculed, suppressed and relegated to dustbins of history by the private media enterprises. From Hollywood flicks to CNN headlines, frivolous entertainments were repackaged as news for popular consumption. Big businesses through advertisements and various forms of sponsorships pushed their agendas for a ferociously vital American economy – an economy where capital would be privately held, with solitary aim for unlimited profits, and where the capital would invariably triumph over the labor.

For decades, the American Dream – a fictitious and opportunistic claim that anyone can selfishly prosper through individual efforts – has been demonstrated as the encompassing ideology of global capitalism. The phrase has gained approvals because it has gone unquestioned. Much like the accompanying rhetoric: Democracy.

The dream and the democracy – both are at stake this time. In the past, the masses demanded to restore them. This time, they are demanding to dismantle them. No wonder, the New York Times failed to deconstruct what is happening at the Wall Street. “Gunning for Wall Street, With Faulty Aim” read the headline on the Times. For decades the mainstream corporate media defined for the people what their aims should be in order that the status quo is duly maintained. And usually in the western world, the protests have invariably taken a reformist shape, because the goals are precisely laid out, the conversations are articulately arranged, and the legislative conclusions draw the final lines.

However, this time, it is different, to say the least. It is not just the Wall Street. It is Occupation United States. Similar “occupation” movements are taking over various cities in the country, almost in a way, that it is difficult to fathom the direction they shall take. Many critics of the Occupation are arguing that this movement shall fail because it does not have specific goals. For instance, the otherwise liberal Colbert Report ridiculed the occupation as a mindless gibberish because the humorist found the lack of an articulated goal to be quite unacceptable.

Unacceptable, it sure is. Protests, demonstrations, and marches have traditionally been easy to contain because they tend to address specific issues and have extremely limited sphere of influence. They usually do not address the system as such because strictly from a pragmatic standpoint, it delays the process of redressal. And from a political standpoint, an attack on the system is a call for dismantling and possibly, overthrowing of an existing political economy – something which is outrightly rejected by not just the ruling class members of politics and businesses, but also by a great number of citizens who live in class denial.

War Has Been Brought Home

Occupation movement this time around offers no immediate solution – nor does it harbor much hopes either. If the collective demand is to have Obama administration dissociate itself and the United States from Wall Street money, the collective intelligence says it is probably not possible. Demanding a solution from the very system that needs to be dismantled is a worthless endeavor. And no one knows this better than the radicals themselves. And yet, what is much more important is the historical knowledge that revolutions take place not through pessimistic withdrawals, but through constant engagement with all available avenues of protests until the status quo is reversed.

In our fast-paced, solution-oriented, just-do-it society, it is quite predictable that many intellectuals and journalists, politicians and diplomats shall continue to question the viability of movements that offer no concrete alternatives. But a reflective and critical study of revolutionary theories and unique histories of various progressive movements shall demonstrate that all that the masses need are a few sparks, and there is no telling what turns the events will take!

Capitalistic America today appears to be insurmountable. It appears so, because it is depicted as thus through textbooks and newspapers, amidst televised programs and blockbusters. The deep vulnerabilities and classic contradictions of capitalism are deliberately omitted in an effort to celebrate the manufactured notions of freedom and democracy in the western world. But as humanity continues to evolve, and as consciousness of the masses across various oppressed social locations continues to be raised, the protocols are bound to shatter. The people will emerge as the leaders themselves. And their collective aspirations – to inhale the air that celebrates human dignity, free from greed of private accumulations – are bound to prevail. Its just a matter of time. And, that clock is ticking today at the Wall Street.

Financialization, Household Credit and Economic Slowdown in the U.S.

Deepankar Basu

Between 1948 and 1973, real GDP for the U.S. (measured in 2005 chained dollars) economy grew at a compound annual average rate of about 3:98 percent per annum; between 1973 and 2010, the corresponding growth rate was only 2:72 per cent per annum. While the 25 year period of high growth after the Second World War has, with some justification, earned the epithet of the “Golden Age” of capitalism, the period of relative stagnation since the mid-1970s has been characterized by heterodox economists as a neoliberal capitalist regime (Dum´enil and L´evy, 2004, 2011; Harvey, 2005; Kotz, 2009).

Three characteristics of neoliberal capitalism have attracted lot of scholarly attention. First is the marked trend towards growing financialization of the economy, by which is meant a growing weight of financial activities in the aggregate economy. Figure 1 presents some well-known evidence, for the period 1961-2010, in support of this claim. The top left panel plots the share of value added that is contributed by the FIRE (finance, insurance and real estate) sector in the value added by the total private sector of the U.S. economy: between 1961 and 2008, the contribution of the FIRE sector increased steadily from about 16 per cent to roughly 25 percent. The top right panel gives the share of financial sector profit in total domestic profit income in the U.S. economy, which shows a steady increase since the early 1970s (interrupted briefly in the early 1980s). It is only during the financial crisis in 2007-2008 that this share declined for a brief period; it is noteworthy that the share started a rapid ascent in 2009, and has recovered much of its loss since then. The two figures in the bottom panel provide evidence, for the period 1988-2009, of the growing size of the stock market: both stock market capitalization and total value traded, as a proportion of nominal GDP, has trended up since the late 1980s, providing clear evidence of the growth of financial relative to real activity.

The second notable characteristic of the neoliberal regime has been the veritable explosion of the flow of credit (and the build-up of the stock of debt) in the economy. One important dimension of the growth of credit has been the unprecedented increase in the credit flowing to (working class) households. Figure 2 presents evidence in support of both these claims by plotting the time series of outstanding debt (measured as total credit market liabilities) of three crucial sector of the U.S. economy: the nonfinancial business sector, the household sector, and financial business sector. While the business sectors display an increasing trend since the early 1960s (along with large fluctuations at business cycle frequencies), the household sector debt starts a secular rise since the early 1980s (with almost no business cycle fluctuations), and the financial business sector also displays a secular rise till the onset of the Great Recession. The last chart in Figure 2 plots the time series of the ratio of outstanding household debt and outstanding debt of the nonfinancial business sector. The ratio shows a clear upward trend since the mid-1970s, with household debt increasing from about 85 percent of nonfinancial business debt in the mid-1970s to about 140 percent just prior to the start of the Great Recession.

The third important characteristic of neoliberal capitalism has been stagnation of real wages for the bulk of the working class. In the face of rising productivity, this has entailed a massive redistribution of income away from working class households, leading to widening income and wealth inequality. Figure 3 presents evidence in support of this claim. The top panel plots an index of productivity (measured real output per hour) in the total nonfarm business sector of the U.S. economy. There is an increasing trend in productivity over time, with a marked acceleration in growth since the mid-1990s. This is in sharp contrast to the evolution of real wages of production and nonsupervisory workers plotted in the bottom panel, who comprise about 80 percent of the U.S. workforce. The hourly real wage has barely increased between the early 1970s and the late 2000s; the weekly real wage has in fact declined during this period.

The main question that this paper wishes to explore is the possible connections between the slowdown in economic growth on the one hand and the three characteristics of neoliberal capitalism on the other? Heterodox economists have been interested in this question for at least the last three decades, and the main contribution of this paper is to extend that literature by presenting a theoretical model to address this question. Building on and extending Foley (1982, 1986a), this paper develops a discrete-time Marxian circuit of capital model to analyze the link between financialization, nonproduction credit and economic growth. It is demonstrated that increasing financialization and the growth of household credit (a component of nonproduction credit) can reduce the growth rate of a capitalist economy. Hence, this paper offers a novel explanation, rooted in a Marxian circuit of capital macroeconomic analysis, for the slowdown of the U.S. economy during the neoliberal era.

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A Review of “State Power and Democracy”

 Paresh Chandra  

Andrew Kolin, State Power and Democracy: Before and During the Presidency of George W. Bush, Palgrave Macmillan, 2010

It is not hard to find texts that defy the lies of the state by presenting facts that contradict them. This method of ‘uncovering’ the status quo, which can be called Chomskyan (the political Chomsky, not the linguistic one), works by trying to shock its reader out of their ideological slumber. Unfortunately, the vast array of ugly facts that these texts bring out usually remains ungrounded in a unified, alternative perception of reality. The attempt is to falsify particular claims of the state, by producing facts to the contrary, without trying to understand the ‘deep structure’ that gives birth to this state of affairs. The reader, not drawn out into a critique of present-day life in its entirety, is able to go back to that life, as if what these books uncover is simply another aspect of reality that s/he need not be concerned with.

The first noticeable merit of Andrew Kolin’s book is that it is able to avoid this Chomskyan pitfall. The main thesis – that the American police state that came toAndrew Kolin's State Power and Democracy full bloom during the Bush regime was the culmination of a history of suppression of democracy – is buttressed by a very detailed account of steps that successive governments took in this direction. A diachronic account invariably suggests causal relations, and the writer in question does not feel the need to shy away from these suggestions. Kolin’s analysis shows that the move toward a police state was a possibility immanent within the American system, and if it did not become a solid, unquestioned presence till now, it was only because of successive people’s movements that broke its advance. The emergence of the ‘military-industrial complex’ during and after World War II on the one hand, and the institution of intelligence bodies like the FBI and CIA on the other, were major steps in the making of a police state. Kolin demonstrates how these bodies worked together, repeatedly sidelining the Congress, to hinder the rights of citizens and foreigners (inside and outside the American border). Even as they played a crucial role in militaristic/expansionistic drives, they also ensured that opposition within the borders of the nation, to the state’s foreign policy, is minimised.

The American state has managed to ensure a permanent state of emergency, declared or undeclared, within its borders. This emergency is based, customarily, on the fear of external threats (till a point communism and later on terrorism). The state of emergency implies that the President has unquestioned primacy over the Congress, that the Intelligence has a free hand, and that democratic rights of citizens are effectively and indefinitely suspended. Any person or organisation that dared to question foreign policy was arbitrarily connected to foreign threats (present or absent) and was hence liable to be prosecuted. Laws like the Patriot Act ensured that ‘suspicion’ was good enough ground to ‘neutralise’ a person.

From the beginning of the 20th century, and especially after WW-II, the US has been the single-most powerful imperialist entity in world politics. “Empires are incompatible with democracy, which has been seen throughout human history. To maintain and expand power, an empire must limit dissent, rolling back democracy; only mass democracy could challenge the authoritarian polices of the US government.” (131) To defend its power and policies the US has had to stay on an offensive not only in territories it has ‘conquered’, but also inside its own borders, where dissent has emerged time and again. Sometimes the combination of aggression abroad and defence within its borders has proved too much, and the outcome has often been visible. For instance, one practical implication of continuous war in Vietnam was that the state was not in a position to control, properly, rising discontent inside its borders. More generally, however, a logical continuum can be traced, on the one hand between the aggression that is perpetrated outside and inside the nation’s border, and on the other the resistance that it has to face on both ‘fronts’.

The foregrounding of this two-faced ‘continuum’ has been, to my mind, the single-most important achievement of Kolin’s book. He has been able to demonstrate, through an analysis of (sensational) realpolitik, as well as more prosaic politico-economic facts, that imperialist aggression, destruction of democracy inside the imperialist nation, resistance, both inside and abroad, and policy at large (both ‘pro-‘ and ‘anti-people’) are inextricable entwined. In a way then, this book is an allegory of politics in a world dominated by the capitalist mode of production.

This final point about policy, or more precisely, the part about ‘pro-people’ policy needs to be explained a bit more. Kolin shows that the meeting of demands raised by protestors does not necessarily (in fact, never) means a systemic improvement – cooption is the word. When the tendency toward militarisation becomes excessive, the chances of an implosion increase (this becomes visible, primarily in peoples’ discontent), and to ‘manage’ this state of affairs the state seems to give in to demands; everything suddenly becomes more democratic. But this improvement is always temporary, and in a way buys time for the capitalist state to reorganise itself for a fresh assault. Obama, for instance, seems to be buying time in precisely this manner – making cosmetic changes, making promises that he does not keep, and so on. The fact is, and this too Kolin brings out, that the state tries its best to destroy movements. When it fails to do that, it meets those demands that do not need a fundamental reorganisation of the social structure. ‘Affirmative action’ was one such demand, which allowed the state to control the furore of the Civil Rights Movement without hurting hegemonic interests too much.

This much said, two more bases are left to be covered, by this essay and by the book. All radical theorists invariably run into a persistent problem in the process of explicating the workings of the system. One does not want to overplay the aspect of agency, nor celebrate the ‘victories’ of movements, without appending a warning about the system’s ability to coopt struggles. If we do this, we risk the pitfall of reformism and the cause of revolutionary transformation may suffer. On the other hand, if we focus upon the system and its ‘largeness’, its ‘perfections’, its capacity to survive and rejuvenate itself, our work may have a pessimistic, anaesthetic effect on the reader, once again defeating our cause. And this is the problem that Kolin’s book runs into. The vast intricacies of the functioning of the state impart to it a sublimity that seems beyond comprehension; and what we cannot comprehend, we surely cannot fight. On top of this, the ability of this state (of affairs) to perpetuate itself by coopting all attempts to subvert it.

But this is where another aspect of the text becomes important: the periodically stated, if somewhat inadequately developed (within the text) centrality of ‘class’.

Usually, the text mentions class when it tries to distinguish between struggles whose demands are easier for the state to meet, because they do not question its foundations, and others, which do just that and are invariably forcefully suppressed. Admittedly the text does not explain why “class-based” struggles are somehow harder to coopt. The detour through political economy that this would entail would have done away with any possibility that may exist, of the reader being too overwhelmed with surface structures to grasp the deep structures that generate them.  I would argue that any attempt at ‘cognitive mapping’ (to use Fredric Jameson’s phrase), any attempt, in other words, to get a handle on the state-of-affairs will need to begin with an understanding of class struggle, understood not as a one-on-one battle between two groups, but as a struggle of tendencies that become visible to us in synchronic force-fields of identity assertions. Though, as has been said, the text does not elaborate upon the process of class struggle, it does manage to give the reader a sense that each synchronic fact that it describes is overdetermined by a complex underlying process that unites it to other such facts. In its detailed description of the pendulum-like movement of the state between greater and lesser democracy, and the relation of this movement to struggles of peoples, it is able to present an image of history as the complex dialectic between autonomy constituted in, as and by the momentary contingencies of a necessarily continuous critique and its equally inevitable and continuous structural determination.